A bill to extend the facility of ‘proxy voting’ to overseas Indians, on the lines of service voters, was passed by the Lok Sabha on Aug 10, 2018.
Moving the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill 2017 for consideration and passage, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the provision would help non-resident Indians (NRIs) to participate in the electoral process.
The Bill, which was passed by a voice vote in the Lower House, proposes that overseas Indians, who are entitled to vote in India, could now appoint a proxy voter to cast their votes.
As of now, overseas Indians were free to cast their votes in the constituencies where they were registered. The Bill seeks to give them the option of proxy voting, which till now was only available to service personnel.
Responding to various objections expressed by members regarding proxy voting, the Minister said “let us trust the NRIs about proxies.”
According to estimates of Minsitry of External Affairs, there are about 3.10 crore NRIs living in different countries across the world.
Prasad said that the country needed to respect and recognise the achievements of NRIs who have done well in different spheres of life across the globe.
While framing the rules, the government will ensure that system of proxy voting is not misused by anyone, he said, adding “proxy is not a dirty word. It is a legal word…a defined word.”
On the issue of allowing migrant workers to vote without having to travel to their place of residence, Prasad said it was “work in progress…our sympathies are with them…they should be given the right to vote.”
Some members demanded that the facility of postal ballots to be extended to them.
Regarding the demand for e-voting, Prasad said there were several difficulties in implementing such a scheme in a large country like India.
There are several security concerns, he said, adding thate-voting has not been adopted by even developed countries with a large population.
An expert committee of the Election Commission, working on the issue, had in 2015 forwarded the legal framework to the Law Ministry to amend the electoral laws to allow the overseas Indians to use proxy voting. Unofficial data with EC shows that only 10,000 to 12,000 overseas voters have exercised their franchise because they do not want to spend foreign currency to come to India and vote.
The bill said the necessary provision of coming to India to cast ballot caused hardship for overseas electors.
Another provision in the amendment bill relates to the spouses of service voters. As of now, an armyman’s wife is entitled to be enrolled as a service voter, but a woman army officer’s husband is not, according to the provisions in the electoral law.
The bill proposes to replace the term ‘wife’ with ‘spouse’, thus making the provision gender neutral.
Members of the armed forces, central armed police forces, personnel of state police forces posted outside their state and employees of the centre posted outside India are eligible to be enrolled as service voters. Partipating in the debate, Mohammad Salim (CPI-M) said that it was an important bill and should be forwarded to the Standing Committee for further scrutiny.
He also accused the foreign missions of distributing literature to influence the voting pattern in favour of the ruling party.
Dharam Vira Gandhi (AAP) said he was not in favour of proxy voting as it could lead to misuse. The governemnt, he said, should introduce e-voting for NRIs.
Prem Singh Chandumajra (SAD) the proposal would allow the NRIs to remain connected with the country. As regards migrant workers, he said, provisions should be made to allow them vote at their place of residence.
Dushyant Chautala (INLD) wanted to know how the government would facilitate voting of lakhs of NRIs living in countries like the US, Saudi Arabia and UAE.
Raising concerns, R Gopalakrishnan (AIADMK) said this facility could be misused by political parties by persuading the proxies appointed by the NRIs.
It could lead to vote trading, he said, adding electronic voting should be allowed so that the voters should cast their vote directly without any role of a proxy.
Anandrao Adsul (Shiv Sena) said when the Constitution talks of ‘one Indian one vote’, how can a proxy cast multiple votes.
Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo (BJD) said the Bill violated many provisions of Constitution including Article 19. It is against level-playing field as regional parties will not have the wherewithal to campaign in foreign countries.
It only suits the ruling party as they “have the entire government machinery including embassies to garner support for them.” He also said that voters could be coerced to vote for the ruling party.